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Montana Senate passes bill penalizing hunters who abuse wildlife location data

(UM Legislative News Service) The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks has exact, real-time location data of some animals like sage grouse or bears.

“Lots of hunters have contacted the department and asked for that exact coordinate location so that they could improve their hunting ability,” said Sen. Jill Cohenour, D-Helena, when she was introducing Senate Bill 349 in the state Senate last week.

SB 349 would make it illegal for hunters to abuse tracking data. It passed out of the Senate with a vote of 27-to-23 on Monday.

Hunters could be fined up to $1,000, serve up to 6 months jail time and lose hunting licenses for using exact location data to track and harass or kill animals under the proposed law.

FWP Director Martha Williams spoke in support of the bill during its public hearing in March. She said the department receives many requests asking for location, but that information often becomes detrimental to the animals and their habitat.

“This bill serves to protect fair chase hunting, ethical hunting, fishing and trapping standards that the Montana public has come to expect,” Williams said.

The bill was amended while it was in committee, removing language that would have allowed FWP to deny data requests. Now, the bill would still allow people to make requests, but penalize them for abusing it.

The bill now moves to the House.

Tim Pierce is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Greater Montana Foundation and the Montana Newspaper Association.